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Sunday, 7 May 2017

Diary of a Wimpy Kid - The Long Haul

Author and Illustrator: Jeff Kinney
Publisher: Penguin Random House, 2015

Talk about an exercise in 'how to bond with your boys': I'd just finished reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as a bedtime read with Alf (7) and Bert (5) and was looking for a 'filler' before starting another heavy novel. Alf suggested The Long Haul; he's read most of The Wimpy Kid series, is obsessed with watching The Wimpy Kid films and 
emulates the older brother in the series, Rodderick (not the greatest literary role model, but I see the appeal in wanting to be the cool older brother). The boys' eyes lit up when I agreed, and in hindsight, I think it's been really beneficial to model fluent reading of these books, as while Alf is a good reader for his age, these books, in my opinion move fast, have a lot of contemporary references and words, so require very competent level of indendent reading to read well, to follow well. Moreover, letting my son lead this, letting him share one of his favourite authors with me, made for great role reversal, and was illuminating- so this is what he finds funny, best of all, I found it hilarious, so funny, laugh -out- loud funny, that the boys grew quite fed up of me repeating extracts to my husband the following day or pausing for breath in between giggles. 

To be precise, the first part of The Long Haul is laugh-out-loud, it flags a bit once the family, who are taking a road trip as a part of mum's aspiration for family, and are repeatedly interacting with another family (I lost the gist a bit here, it turns quite slapstick). As a writer, Jeff Kinney reminds me of Matt Groening of Simpson's fame, offering the right mix of joke aimed at young boys (plenty of toilet humour, jokes about hairy bodies, junk food, mishaps) and jokes aimed at parent introspection (the mum sees life in 'learning opportunities' for her boys, playing them a Spainish language CD in the car, the dad, seeking to reclaim personal joy beyond 'the family' buys himself a boat and pays the humourous consequences). 

Written through the eyes of 'Wimpy Kid' Greg Heffley,this character's self reflections are drole, astute and full of contemporary social references (the books are undoubtedly written in American English, so occasionally takes a bit of explaining, e.g. 'Car lot' as 'car park) . There's a self deprecating storyline, in that Jeff is weedy and actively avoids trouble, while his older brother Rodderick is cock-sure and arrogant, and his younger brother, a toddler, Manny, is mollycoddled and intent. The road trip is chaotic and full of funny despairing moments when things go wrong, such as winning a pig at the farm show, the motel not having adequate sleeping arrangements, the 'hot tub' being taken by one whole family, and all the the while Greg is the one most effected by the mishap. For my boys, there seemed to be a real identification with Greg, 'the put upon' child despairing of the well intentioned efforts of his parents. As a parent, I certainly identified with the mum character, reading 'Family Frolic' magazine to better inform herself on good parenting practice. The Long Haul then, insightful hyperbole on modern family life (albeit American, and a quick, comic like, fun read to share between generations.

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